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TIME: Cracks in The System
By Kapal Berita
11/10/2000 10:40 am Wed
Setengah laman mendapat hit yang tinggi kerana kiraan
hit sendiri yang tidak betul. Jangan lupa puak-puak
kroni kini pun ada laman akhbar mereka. Selain itu ada
hit yang berpunca dari program seperti search engine,
atau headline grabber seperti newskini yang otomatik
"What is popular is not always right dan what is right is not
always popular". - F Prophetz
From Time Magazine
Issue 16th October, 2000
Cracks in the System
Malaysia's online news sites are starting to lure readers away from
By DAVID LIEBHOLD Kuala Lumpur
Journalist Stephen Gan was so fed up with the pro-government slant of
Malaysia's mass media that he moved to Bangkok three years ago to take
a job with local daily The Nation. Late last year, however, he
returned to Kuala Lumpur to set up an Internet "newspaper,"
Malaysiakini.com (Malaysia Now). With a modest $132,000 in funds, the
37-year-old Gan got it up and running with just three junior
reporters, giving himself a 70% pay cut in the process. "I came back,"
he says, "because I believe strongly in press freedom, in journalists
being allowed to do their job."
Attitudes like that help explain the shakeup under way in Malaysia's
media. Malaysiakini.com now claims 116,000 readers a day, more than
some established dailies. And as it grows, many of the country's print
and broadcast media are shrinking. According to market research firm
AC Nielsen, readership has fallen significantly over the past two
years for most Malaysian newspapers, including Berita Harian (down
30%), Utusan Malaysia (down 27%) and the New Straits Times (down 34%).
Nielsen interprets the numbers as possibly indicating that people are
spending more time on the Internet and pay TV and less with print.
Politics is surely also a factor, as the established dailies continue
to exercise self-censorship, particularly in reporting the
long-running story of the arrest and conviction of former Deputy Prime
Minister Anwar Ibrahim. "The Anwar affair made people realize that
they weren't getting both sides of the story," says Zulkifli Sulong,
editor of Harakah, the newspaper of the opposition Islamic Party. By
reporting openly on the Anwar saga, the paper saw its circulation rise
five-fold. The government responded in March by restricting street
sales; Zulkifli then launched Harakahdaily.com, a website that now
claims more than 140,000 page views a day.
It is doubtful that this explosion of press freedom is what Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad had in mind when he began encouraging
Malaysians to embrace information technology in the mid-1990s. He has
put computers in schools, allowed the use of pension funds to purchase
home computers and built a high-tech development zone in Kuala Lumpur.
Billions of dollars have already been invested in creating the
so-called Multimedia Super Corridor, though skeptics still have
doubts. "The MSC plan was back-to-front from the beginning," says
Rehman Rashid, editor of Agendamalaysia.com, a website that
specializes in analysis and opinion. "The main point of IT is that it
renders geography irrelevant." Indeed, many of the servers that
distribute Malaysia's new Internet publications are located outside of
the country, in places like Vancouver (Malaysiakini.com) and Auckland
(Agendamalaysia.com). "Mahathir has created a monster," says Gan. "The
people who have benefited most from the government's Internet push
have been the opposition."
Although online readership has declined somewhat from the peaks
reached during the Anwar trial, editors of the new websites believe
the number of users is stabilizing and will grow again. But just as
Mahathir's perceived heavy-handedness seems to have helped spark the
expansion of Internet publishing, a political thaw could hurt it. "In
the past few months there has been much more critical thinking in the
mainstream media," says Kadir Jasin, chairman of Malaysia's national
news agency Bernama. He says mass media organs most of which are
linked to the ruling coalition are responding to reform within the
coalition's leading party, the United Malays National Organization, in
the wake of its poor performance in last November's general election.
"If these changes take hold, outlets like Malaysiakini.com could
become redundant very quickly," says Kadir.
Whatever the political currents, the Internet also has a role to play
in raising the standards of the country's press. "There's a hell of a
lot of bad journalism in Malaysia," says Sharaad Kuttan, co-editor of
Saksi.com (Witness), a news site dedicated to journalistic
independence and ethics. Malaysiakini.com's Gan similarly sees his
mission as improving the quality of the nation's media. Despite
criticism from some readers, he has published articles unflattering to
the opposition, as well as a lengthy dialogue with a government
minister. "We want to provide Malaysians with a credible source of
information," he says.
Malaysiakini.com claims it is already covering half of its operating
costs from advertising revenue, while using only a fifth of its ad
capacity. In the process of promoting press freedom, Gan and his
partners may also turn a profit. "Nobody thought you could make money
out of a website that is critical of the government," he laughs. "But
it's on the cards. The potential is there." Who says the truth has to